Lafai wary of white-hot Walker
It didn't look like a marquee match-up when the draw was released, but St George Illawarra's game against the Sea Eagles at Lottoland this Saturday afternoon looms as one of the must-see clashes of Round 6.
The Dragons are second on the competition ladder courtesy of a three-game winning streak, while the Sea Eagles are snapping at their heels having recovered from a slow start to the season to take down the Cowboys, Bulldogs and Roosters in recent weeks.
While the forwards and halves have attracted plenty of headlines for both sides, it's the battle between a couple of form centres that could go a long way to deciding who leaves Lottoland with the two competition points.
Tim Lafai has had an outstanding start to the year for the Dragons, averaging just shy of 120 metres and two tackle breaks per game.
The 25-year-old scored a try and created one for Jason Nightingale in his side's most recent win over the Wests Tigers but knows he will have to up his game against this week's opponent, Dylan Walker.
The Sea Eagles flyer was the hero on Friday night with his double – including the match-winner two minutes from full-time – enough to sink the high-flying Roosters in a thriller at Allianz Stadium.
The pair have faced off several times at club level, including the 2014 grand final – albeit on opposite sides of the field when Lafai was at the Bulldogs and Walker at Souths – while they also lined up against each other in the 2014 Four Nations.
Lafai was full of praise for his Sea Eagles counterpart and said the only way to contain him was if the Dragons' left-edge defended as one.
"He's definitely a key factor in Manly's team and why they're doing so well in 2017," Lafai told NRL.com.
"He's in awesome form and he's an awesome player so I've got to be on my toes to stop him this week.
"I think his speed and footwork are his best assets. If you have those two things then you're always going to be a pretty good centre who is hard to defend against. I've got to nail down this week and do my homework on him so I can go out there on Saturday and do my best for the team.
"That said, I think we have to work together as an edge. If you try to defend someone like him as an individual then he will beat you with speed. We'll work as an edge to get our line speed up to take that time away from him so he doesn’t get into too much space."
Lafai predominately played at right centre for the Bulldogs but is relishing a return to the left-side of the field that he made his own coming up through the ranks.
"I was originally a left-side player so it's normal for me to playing out there. We've done a lot of hard work in the pre-season to get our combos right so it feels natural," he said.
"I think the biggest difference is which foot you step off and also making sure I carry the ball in my left hand. When I was on the right side I had to get used to carrying the ball in my right hand and fending with the left, and now I have to do the opposite."